Roman Zheleznyak

grid and resonance

Approaching the MMIII Kunstverein in Mönchengladbach, the venue of the exhibition “grid and resonance”, you have to cross a rather bleak industrial area on the periphery of the city. The exhibition space is located in an old factory hall on the site of a former textile plant. Although a few accurately incorporated walls have been installed in it, the carefully gutted industrial architecture remains totally present. Here the essence of Bea Otto’s work is free to unfold, not only in the realm of seeing, but also of thinking. Her engagement with the existing site brings about an exchange that gives rise to varied transformations. The site emerges anew. Objects we discover in the exhibition are either implemented in the existing space as foreign bodies, or else they were already components of that space. For Bea Otto, an elementary step in the transition towards action is to observe the status quo intensely and precisely. Action means opening, shifting, transforming the space and positioning what was conceived for it. In any case, it is a consistent action that involves the courage to reduce to the essential.

I remember my first visit to Bea Otto in her studio several years ago. On that occasion I got to see a fraction of the artist’s collection of objects. It is a strange, indeed veritably curious collection, consisting largely of found relicts of our consumer society. Bea Otto finds objects, or objects find Bea Otto. In each case, it is the artist who makes the decision to take the things she finds on the street with her. Many of them only appear years later in her installations. Most of us would not pay any attention to such objects, but in Bea Otto’s works they are activated in a modified form and located in a new context. The transformation of such artefacts from domestic or other surroundings is manifest in a withdrawal of their function and the resulting change of use. This results in amorphous and aesthetic constructs, like the remains of a shopping cart or a chair on the upper storey of the exhibition hall. What was left behind in the Anthropocene takes on a second life as a protagonist in Bea Otto’s artistic work. The everyday crops up as a fragment, the objects function as pointers, yet are transformed. They are alien and at the same time familiar.

An assembled object near the entrance to the factory hall forms the central point of the exhibition: a mirror resting on a tripod, at first glance a slight gesture. The original function of that tripod was to hold a projector. Instead of a projector there is now a mirror that points to an opening into the upper storey and through this opening into the space itself. The invisible pillar activates space and serves as a gathering point. The three-dimensional space becomes a two-dimensional image in the horizontal reflection, in which foreground, middle ground and background merge.

Looking left we discover an object frame, a find, closed off and empty. A small conserved white space hangs on the disproportionately long wall. A display case without a display, a pictorial object and space model at one and the same time. The clinically off-putting gallery space as a model, independent and homogenous. Further on in the exhibition, the apparently hovering wire grid offers another interplay between object and space. In a kind of balancing act, part of its structure dissolves in the space. The surrounding is rastered by the square structure, giving us the possibility to experience the artwork in a different way and leading us on into the upper storey.

The floor of that storey consists mainly of metal grids partly covered with sheets of steel. The pure space already creates various resonance levels. Light and sound are broken, fragmented on the grids. The way Bea Otto intervenes in this space is both subtle and generous. Grid structures, and consequently the spaces beneath them, are exposed by some of the massive steel plates being removed from the existing grid, shifted, partly displaced, partly turned around, and two of them made to hover. No tricks, no magic, just lifting. Through this simple gesture, the huge weight of the steel plates seems to be eliminated. Shoved over the edge of the space, the large plate becomes a spring board into the open. A small fictive opening in the long built-in wall, a seemingly stranded fragment of a shopping cart, a chromed chair construct, fine grids shoved one on top of the other on the floor, all enter into a dialogue with one another and with the space surrounding them. Due to the loose superimposition of the grids, the Cartesian structure is dissolved and at the same time condensed. Beside it there is that strange hole in the floor: the mirror on the lower storey throws the viewer’s gaze back and upwards two more storeys to the roof of the factory hall. We are in the midst of optical and acoustic resonances evoked and shattered by the artist’s interventions and the viewer’s movements.

An orange notebook opened at the centre page and literally glowing in the otherwise chromatically reduced surroundings is the smallest object in the exhibition. It corresponds to the door, also orange and apparently surreal, on a no longer existing second storey. The fragile position of the notebook, jutting over the edge of a steel plate, takes up the theme of the hovering plates and the existing, partly overhanging architecture. The illustration in the notebook, a white room layout on an orange background, raises questions: All the numbered rectangular areas border on at least one other area, some of which, however, have no opening. This correlates in an absurd way with the exhibition space: it has a door without an associated room, the notebook has rooms without a door. In many ways, the strange room layout illustrated here seems like a cartographic performance with parallels to the intricate spatial situation at the Kunstverein.

Throughout the entire exhibition, interventions are precisely located and echo something existing already. The present and the absent are there simultaneously. Bea Otto’s works have the quality of a spatial extension, the objects manage to defragment the space, in other words, to order it anew. As a result of her intense engagement with the existing space, several smaller places emerge that are linked thematically and mentally, independently of their physical location. Bea Otto makes statements that are clear, sober and at the same time poetic. Her interventions breathe, remain open and as a result seem to be continuously in motion. Viewers prepared to embark on a process of slow perception discover spatial links and thematic connections and thus experience a resonance with Bea Otto’s work.

Translation: Pauline Cumbers